feeling homesick

I’ve left Cambodia nearly 3 months ago. After 12 months I needed and wanted to leave, I was ready to go some new place and see what else I might come upon. The past weeks I have constantly been on the road. First New Zealand, then California, Portland, Seattle and now Canada. In a few days, I’ll be in New York and after that finally back in Germany.

While I certainly enjoy getting to see so many places and meet many different people along the way, there is one thing that doesn’t change – I miss Cambodia. More than I thought I would. Everyone told me that this would happen, the frowned upon “reverse culture-shock”.  Knowing about it, unfortunately, hasn’t made things any easier. Now when I feel like I’m in the wrong place and wonder why no one else appreciates the fact that I always pay using two hands or feel overwhelmed by so much luxury and materialism around me, I know that this is a culture-shock but besides that, it doesn’t make things better.

Missing a place where you cannot be is annoying. I can tell myself that it is alright, that I will get used to my “own” culture again and that, if I want it enough, I can just go back to Cambodia (even though it won’t be the same). But all these options involve patience, which I am not the biggest fan of.

My life in Cambodia was fulfilling. I had a job that made me feel like I was doing something good with my time instead of procrastinating. I was – and still am- grateful & proud to be working for SCAO. Even though Phnom Penh is far from the cleanest and safest city I’ve ever seen, I miss its vibe. The various smells on the markets, motos on the street, the praying of the monks, chatting with the street vendors and eating fried rice in the tiniest plastic chairs. Trying to speak Khmer with my landlady, getting fried banana before class would start at 5.30, hearing the same excuses for why we really shouldn’t write the vocabulary test today over and over again and hanging out with the other volunteers on countless rooftop bars throughout the cities. Weekend trips to small islands, ancient temples or bungalows in the jungle. Famous dinners at 18 and endless waiting for food and drinks at Score. Endless ceremonies, all dressed up and hidden behind what felt like 10 layers of make-up, being late for work because of the rain in Phnom Penh and water fights with the children when the heat got too much. Rice for breakfast and noodles for dinner. Frozen energy drinks and other snacks, including sour mango with chili and salt, cream-o’s and coconut-ice from a small plastic bag.

And yes I know I’ll need to wait a bit until I can come back, but one thing is for sure – I am going to be back. Even if it will test my patience.

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March (& April) Madness – Catching up Part 1

So i haven’t written anything in months. By now I should probably acknowledge that blogging isn’t really my thing – or at least, blogging continuously isn’t. However i’m still going to try to tell you a bit about the past 4 to 5 months here in Cambodia.

Midterm Seminar in Kampot – March

Every “weltwärts” participant agrees to visit three seminars. One before the stay abroad, as preparation, a second one, halfway through the year abroad, to reflect on experiences and talk about what’s to come, and the last one, after ones return, to discuss living back in Germany.

The Midterm Seminar took place in Kampot, one of my favorite places in Cambodia.

Together with participants from “Brot für die Welt”, “Mission eine Welt” and “Banyan Tree e.V.” we, that being the other four Red Cross volunteers and me, spent a week living in bungalows right by the river, talking about our experiences with Cambodian society and culture, our work placements and our expectations for the next months. Most of the other volunteers were also placed within organisations in Cambodia but some were also working in Thailand and Malaysia.

It was great to meet so many new people that all made similar experiences and to share views and opinions on our volunteer service with each other. Fortunately a bunch of the other volunteers also works in Phnom Penh, so we didn’t have to say goodybe to them after that one short week.

Vacation in Vietnam – April

During the Khmer New Year holiday, Emilly, Melli (a former SCAO volunteer) and me traveled through Vietnam. On our way we met up with Cecile (another former volunteer) and Steffen, a German friend of ours.

Emilly and me started our journey by bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), where we met Melli. From there we went to Mui Ne, then Hoi An, Hanoi and Halong Bay and back again.

While in Vietnam we managed to use every possible way of transport there was. We walked, rode bycicles and motos, drove in cars, rode trains and busses, made a boat trip and travelled by plane.

Even though we were constantly on the move (about 2300 km back and forth) i really enjoyed Vietnam and its diversity. In  HCMC Emilly and me were fascinated by the fast and, in comparison to Cambodia, quite developed city. In Mui Ne we were able to hang out at the beach – even though it was super windy – and visit some desert like sand dunes. We were also introduced to Vietnamese hospitals when Melli injured her foot.

Hoi An is an old chinese trade city. While there we felt like we travelled back in time. Lots and lots of lampions, beautiful bridges, tiny alleys and traditional chinese music. It was by far our favorite spot on the journey. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to explore Hanoi, but we had some delicious Vietnamese coffee in one of its endless coffee shops and fantastic food. From Hanoi we booked a two day cruise through Halong Bay, north of Hanoi. Once we reached Halong Bay, we were quite disappointed with the foggy weather, but nevertheless the bay was spectacular and we had a great time on the boat.

After 12 days of eating Pho, drinking Vietnamese coffee, not learning a singe word of Vietnamese and praising Vietnams infrastructure, Emilly and me headed back to Phnom Penh.

It was great to visit Vietnam and leave Cambodia for a while. It made me appreciate a lot of things in Cambodia and also helped me to change my view on Cambodia (and Vietnam as well) a bit, take a step back from my loving, forgiving opinion before. Even though i enjoyed my trip to Vietnam immensely, i’m so glad i’ve chosen to spend my year abroad in Cambodia.

 

Moving into my first apartment – April

Before heading off to Vietnam for our vacation, Emilly and me started to search for apartments to rent. We both had made the decision to move out of SCAO and decided to move to Phnom Penh together.

I’ve absolutely loved my months living at SCAO, but after 8 months of not having my own room, much less my own bed and sharing a bathroom with 16 children it was time for me to move from the village to the city, into an apartment with doors. In addition there are just a lot more things to do in the city and you are closer to more things than out in the village.

Emilly and me found an apartment close to the Russian Market, in the south of Phnom Penh, that we really liked and could affort. We signed the lease shortly before our vacation and told them that we’d move in when we came back from Vietnam.

We came back on a Tuesday evening, worked Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and were planning on moving on Saturday. Friday evening Emilly called me and asked why we shouldn’t move in right now. I had no idea why not, so we packed our bags and made our way to our new apartment. The first night was spent cleaning and planning.

Now, after already living here for nearly 3 months, i’m so glad we moved. At first i wasn’t really sure, about leaving the village and my family at SCAO, but i still see them everyday at work, so it’s fine. It’s great to have your own room, your own fridge and most of all, your own huge balcony. Even though it’s not always easy and i feel like i have to learn a looooot of new things with me now living on my own, it feels great.

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Excerpts from my second Red Cross Report

Work in Cambodia
My tasks within S.C.A.O. have slightly changed. Before Leon and me didn’t really split the tasks and both of us were just doing everything that needed to be done at certain times. Now that our tasks have been split I’m responsible for all administrative tasks within S.C.A.O and working closely together with our director, Mr. Sameth. All tasks have been split into so-called “teams” at the S.C.A.O. Center. Leon is the team leader of Education and I’m the team leader of Administration. In addition we have a team leader of the family and the kids, which is Aleix from Spain.
So now I answer all emails from the information account and the emails from the volunteering account. I also do the volunteer planning and work together with our partner organization AIESEC in sending over new volunteers. […]
I still teach, however not that much. The only class that I’ve never given up for anyone else to teach is my Pre-Intermediate class from 5.30 to 6.30. This class has been taught by me for six months already. It is wonderful to see their progress and do more and more content focused projects with them. At the end of January I let them work in groups to work on their own presentations about creating a law to improve Cambodia. They enjoyed it a lot and came up with so many great ideas, that I actually hope are going to be used one day, for example ideas on how to prevent domestic violence and saving the Cambodian rainforest. Sometimes I still teach beginner classes, but really only when there are no other volunteers around. […]
Life in Cambodia
At the moment I’m still living at the S.C.A.O. center in Boeng Chhouk. However I’m planning to move out the end of April, and move into an apartment in Phnom Penh together with Emilly.
Life at the Center hasn’t really changed a lot, except for the fact that I spend a lot of my time in the internet café, since I can’t really concentrate on work when I sit downstairs at the Center having a bunch of kids and some volunteers constantly around me, asking questions or wanting to play. I really enjoy life at the center, but it has beenI really enjoy life at the center, but I’ve realized that I need a quiet surrounding to actually get my work done.
[…]
I spend a lot of time with the volunteers from SCAO but I’ve also started hanging out more with Khmer people. For example on Valentine’s Day I met with a bunch of my students and we all spent the day together, walking through Phnom Penh and taking funny pictures. It’s probably not what I would ever do with my friends in Germany, but it is great to be introduced into this aspect of Khmer culture and learn about Cambodian friendships. I’ve also attended the wedding of the sister of a Cambodian friend. For that event I went out and bought traditional Khmer clothes and later had my hair and makeup done together with a friend. Everything was really Khmer Style and it was a lot of fun.
Together with Leon I still attend Khmer classes every day. By now I have started to learn how to write and read Khmer. I’m definitely not as good as I wish I would be, but I know all vowels and consonants now and am able to read and write first, really simple sentences. Learning Khmer writing has also helped me a lot to improve my pronunciation and other than that it is quite fun, since the writing is really beautiful. I do have to start to focus a bit more on vocabulary again, since I’d really like to be able to have deeper conversations that go past “How long do you live here?” and “Where do you work?”.

For the next few months I have a lot to do. In addition to my daily tasks, I need to finish my pieces for the annual report of S.C.A.O. and I also want to film a fundraising video to promote the 3rd school of S.C.A.O.

Regarding my personal life I want to move to Phnom Penh and travel through Vietnam in April, when we have Khmer New Year Holidays.